Organizations tend to remain static unless there is a force greater than the inertia of the status quo. There are two basic types of force that can be applied to an organization. The first type is the “pushing” force from the dissatisfaction with the status quo. The second type is the “pulling” force of a vision of a better future. Not only must tension be sufficient to overcome inertia, but it also has to be maintained to keep the organization moving. Creating and maintaining tension are the “bookends” in the Leading Transformation Framework. This video is a short excerpt from my recent interview on the Business901 podcast with Joe Dager, where I discuss these forces. Here are some additional thoughts and comments on the key points in the video.
Dissatisfaction with the Status Quo
The pushing forces of dissatisfaction can come from a variety of external and internal sources. Sources of dissatisfaction vary widely and include crises, parent organization pressure, competitive environment, and external regulatory pressures (e.g., accreditation, certification). The severity of dissatisfaction ranges from a crisis of survival to comparison with other better-performing organizations. Some organizations face crises that are hard to ignore. Others simply are not performing as well as they would like.
But a burning platform alone, like poor customer satisfaction, bad financials, new regulations coming down…often tell us that we’re not happy, but they don’t tell us which way to go to fix it.
While dissatisfaction with the status quo “pushes” the organization to change, a compelling vision of a new reality “pulls” people to change AND provides direction for the change.
While pushing forces are useful, many leaders seem to have a “built-in” desire to always improve. In other words, it is simply in their “DNA” to improve things and the methods they use to do their work. Leaders use a variety of mechanisms, including visions of the future and specific goals or objectives, to communicate this desire to improve to the organization members. It is one thing for the leader to have this desire to improve and quite another to effectively enlist the help of the organization members to create that improvement. It is seldom that we know all the required steps to accomplish a transformation in advance, but it is important to have a good idea of what the first steps will be. According to Richard Beckhard’s Change Formula, the combined pressure from dissatisfaction with the status quo (pushing force) and the compelling vision (pulling force) must be greater than the resistance to change (inertia).
The origins of that formula are actually sketchy, but he basically said that those two things have to be greater than the resistance to change which is the status quo.
If you and the organization members are satisfied and don’t have a vision of how the organization could be better, then nothing will change. In some cases, you may have to create some dissatisfaction and a compelling vision.
Create and Maintain Tension
Step 1 – Assess, create, and leverage the forces for change.
So step one is to understand the forces for change, and if you don’t have enough forces for change, you need to create some dissatisfaction and or a better, more compelling vision so that you do have the forces for change otherwise, you’re not going to go anywhere.
Step 2 – Keep raising the “bar” as the organization improves.
Once you get going, and you’re doing all these things, you start improving. So the dissatisfaction goes down because now we’re doing better as we start improving the “pieces and parts” and putting all this together and making it work as a system, so once we start improving, the tension decreases. When the tension decreases, we will no longer have enough [force] to overcome inertia… Maintaining the tension is critical to keeping the organization moving because as soon as they’re satisfied with where you know, all progress stops pretty much. Unfortunately, the world continues changing. If we’re happy with where we are, we’re going to get behind and start declining in performance.
Assess Your Forces for Change
- How dissatisfied am I with the current organization? Why?
- How dissatisfied are organization stakeholders? Why?
- Do we have a compelling vision of how we would like it to be?
- Do we have a practical plan to make the vision a reality?
- Are the forces for change and the practical plan credible? If not, why not?